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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

CHAPTER 3
WRITING AND LITERATURE
THE modern world has inherited from Ancient Egypt, as from
Greece, in two different ways. In the first place there has been
simple historical transmission, things of value having come
down to us, to use the old Egyptian expression, 'son to son,
heir to heir'. But secondly there has existed also a deferred
mode of acquisition, in which Champollion and his successors
have played for Egypt the same role as the scholars of the
Renaissance played for Greece. Examination of the latter form
of inheritance really resolves itself into the question: How far
should we, judging by our own standards of value, be the poorer
without the new knowledge and beauty accruing from Egypto-
logical research? Obviously this is a very different question
from that raised by the other kind of legacy, where the problem
is of even greater interest, but unfortunately also of far greater
difficulty. The task before us in this chapter is to treat the
writing and literature of Pharaonic Egypt from both points
of view, and it will be well to start with the more exacting of
the two problems.
Elements of art, of law, and of religion may have passed
straight from Egypt to Rome, there to join the broad stream
of ancient culture that has descended to ourselves. As regards
literature and writing, Rome has to be eliminated as an imme-
diate point of contact, and in so far as there has been direct
inheritance, the intermediaries will have, been Palestine and
Greece, in many cases doubtless both. The chances of an
influence passing from Egypt to Greece via Crete do not
seem particularly great. Classical scholars have not in the
past taken very kindly to the idea of Hellenic dependence
upon Egyptian civilization, but in one important case the debt
is universally admitted, as will be seen from the following